A Jessee Pollit Showman - English Road-Rail Waggon
surfaces after decades of hiding away in North Carolina, USA


This dusty old relica of the past a Showman Road-Rail waggon was purchased many years ago in England and then shipped over to North Carolina, USA by a gentleman as a wedding present for his beautiful bride.

Sadly the marriage did not last long, and subsequently the living van was put in to storage and forgotten about until recently.

Now Keith has come to its rescue and is embarking on a major restoration project whilst also researching its history. He's just sent GypsyWaggons these recent images.


Our researchers have identified the Showman as a likely early Pollit waggon!

Jessee Pollit owned a steam boiler yard in Lever Street in Bolton, Lancashire from c. 1862 and was well thriving in the 1910s.  As well as making boilers, he built Road-Rail waggons 16-18' long, with wide solid rubber tyres, and weighing 1-2 tons.  Old photographs show his waggons have distinctive horse brackets, slanting belly boxes, front end only panelling, and many other matching features.


Technically, this isn't a Gypsy  waggon.  Far from it.  The living van was built for showmen, travelling between fairs and circuses.

In the mid 1800s carriages were being carried on flatbed railstock throughout Britain via the steam railway but early Showman vans were the wrong shape: they were too tall to go under tunnels and bridges!  Some roofs were lowered, but then the vans were too low to live in.  The alternative was to lower the underworks and use smaller wheels, but often waggons were still high at the front because of turntables.



A development on lowering the undercarriage was to have two floor levels.  The front section over the turntable had a higher floor but a lower roof and therefore became the bedroom.

Further back, the floor was lower, giving a higher ceiling, and this area became the main room.  The door necessarily moved from the front to the side.





Although horses were still needed to haul the vans to fairgrounds, showman waggons could be larger, longer and more luxurious now that they were carried by rail.

Whilst early road waggons were 12-18' long and weighed 1-2 tons, Road-Rails averaged 21' and weighed 2-3 tons.   However, by the 1930s road waggons also became longer at 24' and up to 6 tons in weight.





One van built by Orton's of Burton-on-Trent in 1907 was 8' wide x 27' long x 13' high, painted outside crimson lake with gold.

Inside, it was pink and green, fitted out with polished mahogany cupboards and hand-painted panels.  There were golden velvet seats, an Axminster carpet ... and a lavatory.  Silver mountings supported the latest electric lights and were reflected in cut-glass windows.




During the First World War the railways were used by troops, and showmen were forced back on the roads.  But by now they could use traction engines to pull their waggons and, later on, petrol vehicles.

By the time of the Second World War few Road-Rail vans were in use and, sadly, very much in decline.  They are rarely seen today.





To finish - imagine what this ceiling must have looked like in its day.  Beautiful vardo art at its best!

Further great reading on Showman/Rail-Road waggons to check out :-
A Palace on Wheels: a History of Travelling Showmen's Living Vans by Paul Braithwaite and editor John Carter, published by Carters Books, 1999

Pictures courtesy of Keith Philips, Carolina, USA

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